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What is the line between voicing a professional opinion and libel? This is a matter that one unlucky librarian is currently learning quite a bit about.
To summarize the story: In 2010 librarian Dale Askey (currently a librarian at McMaster University [in Canada]) posted a piece on his blog that could be construed as being highly critical of a certain academic press (at the time of the posting Askey was a librarian at Kansas State University). In Askey’s post “The Curious case of Edwin Mellen Press” (you can read it here, you’ll have to scroll down a bit to get to the post) he referred to the press as a “vanity press,” criticized the cost of publication, questioned the credentials of series editors, voiced aggravation at the physical quality of the books, and wrote other things that were not particularly flattering including calling the press “a dubious publisher” right at the outset. Indeed it was not such a nice post, and amongst the comments that were written below it (comments not written by Askey, there were other harsh words about the publisher). And now…Askey (and McMaster his current employer [not his employer at the time of the posting]) is being sued for 3 million dollars in damages for defamation by Edwin Mellen Press.
If you think that it seems absurd to sue a librarian for 3 million dollars in defamation damages for a blog post from several years ago, know that you are not alone. After all, I think that it would be hard for the press to make the case that Askey’s post has crippled their ability to sell books. Or to put this another way: had you heard of Dale Askey until he got sued? Had you read his blog? I had not heard of him, or read his blog, and I spent too much time reading library sites and blogs. Furthermore, did you have a strong opinion regarding the press in question? I know that I didn’t, even though I have some familiarity with some of the titles they have published. Had the press done nothing…the post would have been forgotten.
Since the lawsuit was announced several websites have been doing an excellent job of covering this case (Inside Higher Ed, Library Journal, Chronicle of Higher Education) and I have little to add in the way of coverage. I agree with much of the commentary that the sites have been posting. And these sites have already started covering the case of Jeffrey Beall (a librarian at the University of Colorado Denver) who is being threatened with legal action for a posting on his blog critical of a different press.
Part of the job of librarians is to evaluate resources, this includes publishers, and if a librarian finds a certain publisher questionable it seems not unreasonable for them to voice these concerns. I cannot predict the outcomes of these cases (and Canadian law is different from US law); however, I would not be at all surprised if the courts rule in favor of the librarians in these cases. I think that the publishers may be doing themselves more harm than good in this matter. After all they are now attracting a lot of negative attention and Askey’s blog piece is certainly getting more attention now than it received when it was originally posted.
And yet…I think that it might not matter. These lawsuits seem to me to be less about winning and more about intimidation. Even if the librarians emerge victorious in these court cases these presses have still sent a powerful warning to would be critics: criticize us and you will get sued!
One can only hope that the reaction to these cases will not just be a victory for the librarians but will prompt other librarians to avoid purchasing from these presses (and prompt scholars to look elsewhere for publishing). But if the fear of lawsuits leads to librarians refraining from voicing criticism than the damage done is much worse than an easily quantifiable amount like $3 million.
Updates on this story:
Librarians and Lawsuits [update] – Dale Askey
Librarians and Lawsuits – Edwin Mellen Press Threatens to Sue Another Librarian
Librarians and Lawsuits – From Persecution to Prosecution, the tale of Edwin Mellen Press
What Does a Librarian Have to Do to get Sued for One Billion Dollars? Jeffrey Beall Found Out!
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Jeffrey Beall list is very popular in India since it was a headline in India’s national News paper (The Hindu) before 6 months.Now the same news apeared in Indonesia (a month ago) in its leading news paper. Definitly, the same news will appear in China, Egypt, Turkey in near future. Since Jeffrey Beall is used as a tool for a big closed access publisher, they are spreading the news around the world using their money power. The revenue of closed access publishers were eaten up by open access publishers in the above said regions, the jeffrey beall list appeasr in headlines. This is an organised crime group led by Number 1 closed access publisher.
Jeffrey Beall work as a librarian at Auraria Library, University of Colorado Denver, in Denver, Colorado. He maintains a list of open access journals and publishers.
He includes lot of good journals as list of Predatory publishers in his web page. He will write rubbish about the journals for particular period of time then email the publisher for negotiation. If the publisher agrees to pay him, he will remove the publisher from his predatory list. Since the growing and well reputed open access journals is taking the revenue of closed access publishers, he has been doing this scam for a long time and is backed by closed access journals community.
For example he black listed Hindawi and Versita Open and after “negotiation”, he removed the publishers name from his black list. This guy publish his “great research” works with the help of his supporters. He had published an article in “XYZ” and it can be accessible in the Internet.
The readers posted comments about his real face and “XYZ’s websites. Since XYZ is a strong backer of him, removed those comments from its web pages. THE XYZ is a one of the leading closed Access Publisher
Great post! Thank you! I’ll be linking to it on my blog.
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Agree with Deniz Salim.
By the way, I have posted a comment in Kompas, a leading newspaper in my country, and suggested not to consult beall’s list, and also in the web of Indonesian educational authority. Now, in my country, Beall’s list is not 100% consulted. As long as the journal is listed in Scopus, pubmed or has an impact factor then it is OK. Moreover, we have our own reviewers who review the soundness of an article.